Sison the Poet Sings His Poetry
Poetry in Songs: Jose Ma. Sison Sings His Poems
Produced by the Euro-Philippine Inter-Cultural Solidarity
by Alexander Martin Remollino
Jose Maria Sison - current chairperson of the International League of Peoples' Struggle
(ILPS), founding chairman of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), and award-winning
poet - has said in a number of interviews that if he had not become an activist, he would
have wanted to be a balladeer.
He had a "first shot" at that in 2004, with the release of Joma Sings: Pag-ibig sa Tinubuang
Lupa, produced by multi-media group Kodao Productions, where he renders songs by different
artists. Among the songs he performs in the album is Andres Bonifacio's "Pag-ibig sa Tinubuang
Bayan," set to music in the 1970s by Luis Salvador Jorque into the song "Pag-ibig sa Tinubuang
He now gets a "second shot" at that wish with the release this year of Poetry in Songs: Jose
Ma. Sison Sings His Poems, produced by the Euro-Philippine Inter-Cultural Solidarity (EPICS).
While this is not Sison's "first shot" at having an album, this is the first album where he sings
his own poems - set to music by himself together with Levy Abad Jr., Danny Fabella, Jos
Linnebak, Tony Palis, Empiel Palima, Chickoy Pura, and Aldeem Yanez.
Those who have been able to listen to both albums would notice a marked improvement in
Sison's singing style.
In Poetry in Songs, Sison's vocalization has more power and is able to express a wider range
of emotions. He is now also able to tackle more difficult notes. The voice lessons he is reported
to have taken in preparation for this album appear to have paid off well for the man.
But there are still aspects of the singer's style that could use a little additional work. In some
of the more melodically-challenging songs - like the rally favorites "In Praise of Martyrs" and
"What Makes a Hero" - Sison's vocalization comes across as tense. A little more work in this
area could surely enable him to be more relaxed, and thus come across as more natural,
without necessarily reducing the emotional _expression.
The musical accompaniment for all the 15 songs in the album is done by classical pianist Ariel
Caces. As in the earlier albums which featured or included Sison's songs set to music - Songs
of Love and Struggle and Songs of Struggle and Liberation - Caces with his sophisticated piano
moves does justice to the Sison poems set to music. As a pianist, he knows just when to hit
the keys strongly and when to just almost tap them.
Poetry in Songs includes all the Sison poems in Songs of Love and Struggle: "The Guerrilla is
Like a Poet," "The Giant Oak," "What Makes a Hero," "In Praise of Martyrs," "Sometimes, the
Heart Yearns for Mangoes," and "The Bladed Poem." In addition, we are given classical-music
renditions of "The Coming of the Rain," "A Cool Breeze," "The Forest is Still Enchanted," "A
Furnace," "Gold," "In the Dark Depths," "The North Star is Always There," "Poems and Rest,"
and "Rose for a Waking Woman."
As in Songs of Love and Struggle and Songs of Struggle and Liberation, the musical arrangement
for Poetry in Songs is done by Josefino Chino Toledo.
Sison, who took a degree in English Literature from the University of the Philippines (UP) with
honors in 1959, has been noted as a writer since his university days. Considered the Philippines'
leading revolutionary, he has authored several books, including two poetry anthologies: Brothers
and Other Poems and Prison and Beyond. He won the Southeast Asia WRITE Award in 1986 in
Fabella, Abad, and Palis are members of Musikangbayan, a protest folk group that has released
three albums: Rosas ng Digma, Anak ng Bayan, and Songs for Peace. Fabella is also with Sining
Bulosan, the cultural arm of Migrante International.
Linnebak, a Dutch composer, provided the original Dutch rendition for "Sometimes, the Heart
Yearns for Mangoes."
Pura is the frontman of the progressive-oriented band The Jerks, and has portrayed slain activist
leader Leandro "Lean" Alejandro in a musical play. The band is well-loved by activists and non-activists
alike for its protest rock classics like "Rage" and "Sayaw sa Bubog" among others written and
composed by Pura.
Palis is an English teacher based in Laguna, who believes English should be taught to the poor,
and is also an organic agriculturist.
Yanez is a member of the church-based activist chorale Haranang Bayan. He was national president
of the Youth of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI or Philippine Independent Church) and vice
chairperson of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP).
Toledo, who teaches at the UP College of Music, is the founding director of the Metro
Manila Community Orchestra and the UP Festival Orchestra, among other music groups. Caces,
besides being an accomplished classical pianist, is also a conductor.